Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac

During the decade following World War Two, a body of artistic work was created that clearly articulated for the first time, a distinctly American aesthetic, independent of European models. This is not to say that celebrated works like The Great Gatsby, The Sun Also Rises, Appalachian Spring and Roy Harrisʼ Third Symphony are not recognized as American masterpieces; but their American characteristics are expressed through content, rather than form or methods of production. Fitzgerald and Hemingway all furthered their apprenticeship in Europe during the 1920s while Copland and Harris studied in Paris with Boulanger. It remained for the next generation of the avant garde, living for the most part in New York, to create original schools through the modes of Abstract Expressionism, the new chromatic jazz of Be Bop, and the literature of the Beats. The singly most important characteristic of the new American expression was the central role played by spontaneity and improvisation yielding works of astonishing vibrant surface detail.

The emphasis on the spontaneous as an alternative to the careful and rational reflected larger cultural and philosophical issues. In seeking a subjective, existential view of reality, honesty, authenticity, were prized over the objective world view, process over product. Whether expressed in gesture painting, spontaneous bop prosody, or the chromatic flights of bebop, the emphasis was on the experience, rejecting the academic craftsmanship of revision as antithetical to the glorification of the now.This emphasis plus the incorporation of elements from African and Native American sources were interpreted as an attack on the privileged hegemony of the Anglo-American academy. Beat writers were ridiculed by proponents of the New Criticism who vaunted T.S. Eliot as their model. Kerouacʼs spontaneous prose was dismissed as “mere typing” by Truman Capote. While mainstream journals such as Life magazine devoted some attention to abstract art, it was more often of a patronizing nature, referring to Pollock as “Jack the Dripper”. The new jazz faced opposition even within its own ranks, even prompting a revival of New Orleans music, now called “Dixieland”. Louis Armstrong dismissed bop as making about as much sense as “Chinese music”. So with its fusion of modernist complexity with vernacular) or “street”) immediacy the new art represented a third alternative to European elitism and mainstream pop culture. In an even larger context, the avant garde of the late 1940s represented a reaction to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, and the Gulag – the latter having a dampening impact on the leftist Communist idealism of the 30s. Whether implicit in words or explicit in painting and music, the avant garde became a central voice in the new bohemian counterculture criticism of United States political and corporate globalization with its strategy of cold war xenophobia and domestic consumerism. The full effect of this will not be fully realized until the mid 1960s when the civil rights movement and opposition to the war in Viet Nam galvanized many to question the policies of the government.

 

Jackson Pollock photographed by Arnold Newman for LIFE Magazine, 1949

 

Charlie Parker, at the Carnegie Hall, New York. Photo by William P. Gottlieb, 1947

 

Jack Kerouac in his Long Island home displaying one of the scrolls on which he composed his books, unidentified photographer, 1964.

 

Three artists, Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), Charlie Parker (1920-1955), and Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), play a central role in the emerging post war avant garde, each incorporating elements of spontaneity to their arts. The outline of their biographies shows many similarities. Roughly of the same generation, each were born and raised in provincial settings, Pollock in Cody, Wyoming, Parker in Kansas City, Missouri, and Kerouac in Lowell, Massachusetts. Each came from working class blue collar maternally dominated families, with dysfunctional (Pollock and Kerouac) or nonexistent (Parker) relationships with their fathers, Pollock and Kerouac becoming highly misogynistic. Each produced their most important work in New York beginning around 1945, where they all habituated the same Lower East Side and Greenwich Village neighborhoods, often hanging out in the same bars and coffee houses. All three experienced difficult personal lives, cut short from substance abuse resulting in early deaths (Pollock at age 44. Parker at 35, and Kerouac at 47). What is of great interest is the mutual interest and influence among the artistic intelligentsia of the period. Much of Kerouacʼs innovative spontaneous prose sketching achieved most notable in Visions of Cody and The Subterraneans were heavily indebted to his sophisticated knowledge of jazz. Several of the “choruses” in Mexico City Blues are profiles of Parker, Lester Young, and other musicians. Lee Krasner, Pollockʼs wife, has documented the painterʼs interest in jazz as well as classical music. Night Clubs, such as the Five Spot, doubled as jazz venues as well as art galleries.

 

 

A Pollock painting illustrates the cover of Ornette Colemanʼs, Free Jazz, released in 1959. Some artists worked in several disciplines, most notable saxophonist Larry Rivers who became a prominent painter, composer-novelist Paul Bowles, pianist-poet Cecil Taylor, and poet-painter-composer Weldon Kees. Poetic recitation with jazz, begun with Kenneth Patchen and Charlie Mingus included performances at the Village Vanguard with Kerouac who recorded with tenor men Zoot Sims and Al Cohn as well as recited on television with Steve Allen backing him up on piano. The image of these performances, with their “beards,bongos and beatniks” became simplistic cultural clichés in the late 1950s. perpetuated by the mainstream media in an attempt to trivialize and ridicule the movement. To reiterate the central thesis of this argument, the main thread that unites this rich period of American creativity is the use of improvisation for the purpose of creating art characterized by great emotional and intense expression.

 

American Zeitgeist: Spontaneity in the work of Jackson Pollock, Charlie Parker, and Jack Kerouac
Randall Snyder
(Excerpt)

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Orchids and Etymology of Desire

‘The overwhelming sensuality of the natural world, whose life force is one of pure desire”

Marc Quinn

 

Etymology of Desire, Marc Quinn, 2010. Quinn began his first series of orchids in 2008

 

Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton, Spring/Summer 2015 collection

 

Etymology Of Desire and Prehistory Of Desire (2010) were the centerpiece of the Alexander McQueen women’s ready-to-wear Spring/Summer 2015 show in Paris Fashion Week. Cast from real flowers and parading, the orchids meditate on the human obsession of ideal beauty, achieved through the manipulation, modification and control of nature.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely – exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that’s often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

 

The Diary of a Dress: Alexander McQueen Shares the Saga of How One of His Inspirations – A Peter Arnold’s Orchid Photograph – Evolved from Simple Sketch to Production Nightmare to a Stunning Gown Fit for Supermodel Naomi Campbell. Writer: Lisa Armstrong, Harper’s Bazaar, 2004

 

Kate Moss wearing an orchid printed Cheongsan by unidentified brand. Vogue USA, January 1997

Dachshunds Lovers

Queen Victoria

 

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Queen Elizabeth II. Photo by Terry O’Neill, 1992

 

English composer Benjamin Britten and “Clytie”.

In this photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh, Britten is shown holding a dachshund and looking towards the score from his opera Gloriana (1953) which was written for the coronation of Elizabeth II. According to Karsh “the dog demanded to become part of the picture”.

 

Yousuf Karsh and “Jacques”

 

Abraham Lincoln

 

John F. Kennedy, Lem Billings and Dunker, Den Haag, The Netherlands, 1937

 

Lee Radziwill and Andy Warhol with his dog, Archie. Photo by Ron Galella, Montauk, 1973

 

Andy Warhol and Archie

 

Lou Reed

 

Christa Päffgen a.k.a. Nico. Photo: Mark Shaw for Life Magazine

 

Adele and “Louie”, named after Louis Armstrong

 

Cole Porter

 

George Harrison

 

Vincente Minelli and Katharine Hepburn playing with George Cukor’s pet

 

Grace Coddington

 

Juliette Gréco. Photo by Robert Doisneau

 

Elizabeth Taylor

 

Clint Eastwood

 

Marlon Brando

 

Ginger Rogers

 

Marilyn Monroe

 

Carole Lombard

 

Joan Crawford

 

Brigitte Bardot

 

Liv Ullmann

 

 Brooke Shields

 

Jacques Cousteau, his wife and “Scaphandrier”

 

David Hockney with Stanley and Boodgie

 

picaPablo Picasso and Lump. Photographer David Douglas Duncan published a book of Picasso’s pictures along his pet, which was titled A Dachshund’s Odyssey

 

The gardener and writer Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter House, a 450-acre estate restored by Edwin Lutyens. Awarded in 1979 the Victoria Medal of Honour, the highest horticultural accolade, Lloyd was the best informed, liveliest and most innovative gardening writer of our times.

 

Within the Wall Garden of Great Dixter is a terrace, with a pebble mosaic of Christopher Lloyd’s two beloved dachshunds, Dahlia and Canna. The stones for Canna’s eye and nose were acquired from Derek Jarman’s rock-garden, at Prospect Cottage, in Dungeness.

Stardust

Stardust is an American popular song composed in 1927 by Hoagy Carmichael with lyrics added in 1929 by Mitchell Parish. Carmichael first recorded the song, originally titled “Star Dust”, at the Gennett Records studio in Richmond, Indiana. It is “a song about a song about love”, and it’s played in an idiosyncratic melody in medium tempo. It became an American standard, and is one of the most recorded songs of the 20th century, with over 1,500 total recordings.

According to Carmichael, the inspiration for Stardust came to him while he was on the campus of his alma mater, Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. He began whistling the tune then rushed to the Book Nook, a popular student hangout, and started composing. He worked to refine the melody over the course of the next several months, likely in Bloomington or Indianapolis (sources cite various locations, and Carmichael himself liked to embellish the facts about the song’s origins).

Isham Jones‘s recording became the first of many hit versions of the tune. Young baritone sensation Bing Crosby released a version in 1931, and by the following year, over two dozen bands had recorded Stardust. It was then covered by almost every prominent band of that era. Versions have been recorded by Artie Shaw, Billy Butterfield, Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, (on the 1956 album Dave Brubeck Quartet) Tommy Dorsey, Tex Beneke with The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Jan Garber, Fumio Nanri, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat King Cole (considered by many to be the best), Mel Tormé, Connie Francis, Jean Sablon, Keely Smith, Terumasa Hino, Harry Connick Jr, Hank Crawford, Ella Fitzgerald, Olavi Virta, The Peanuts, Django Reinhardt, Barry Manilow, Art Tatum, John Coltrane, Earl Grant, Willie Nelson, Billy Ward and His Dominoes, George Benson, Mina, Ken Hirai, Al Hirt, and many others.

 
 

Stardust, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983

 
 

Sometimes I wonder why I spend
The lonely nights dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my reverie
And I am once again with you

When our love was new
And each kiss an inspiration
Ah but that was long ago
Now my consolation is in the stardust of a song

Beside the garden wall
When stars are bright, you are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy tale
Of paradise where roses grew

Though I dream in vain
In my heart it will remain
My stardust melody
The memory of love’s refrain

 

To listen to Nat King Cole and John Coltrane´s versions of this song, please take a gander at The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228

Kafka and Oasis in a Same Song

“You are at once both the quiet and the confusion of my heart; imagine my heartbeat when you are in this state.”

“Each of us has his own way of emerging from the underworld, mine is by writing. That’s why the only way I can keep going, if at all, is by writing, not through rest and sleep. I am far more likely to achieve peace of mind through writing than the capacity to write through peace.”

Franz Kafka
Letters to Felice

 
 

 
 

Every day I wake up and it’s Sunday
Whatever’s in my eye won’t go away
The radio is playing all the usual
And what’s a Wonderwall anyway

Because my inside is outside
My right side’s on the left side
‘Cause I’m writing to reach you now but
I might never reach you, only want to teach you
About you but that’s not you

It’s good to know that you are home for Christmas
It’s good to know that you are doing well
It’s good to know that you all know I’m hurting
It’s good to know I’m feeling not so well

Because my inside is outside
My right side’s on the left side
‘Cause I’m writing to reach you now but
I might never reach you, only want to teach you
About you but that’s not you
Do you know it’s true but that won’t do

Maybe then tomorrow will be Monday
And whatever’s in my eye should go away
But still the radio keeps playing all the usual
And what’s a Wonderwall anyway

Because my inside is outside
My right side’s on the left side
‘Cause I’m writing to reach you now but
I might never reach you, only want to teach you
About you but that’s not you
Do you know it’s true but that won’t do
And you know it’s you I’m talking to

 
 

The song was written by Fran Healy, who admitted that he took the guitar chords from OasisWonderwall; as an overt acknowledgement of this, the song contains the lyric “and what’s a wonderwall, anyway?”. In 2004, both Writing to Reach You and Wonderwall were mixed with Green Day‘s Boulevard of Broken Dreams in the popular mash up, Boulevard of Broken Songs,Boulevard of Broken Songs by San Francisco, California DJ and producer Party Ben.

As Fran Healy stated:

Writing To Reach You was actually inspired by Franz Kafka’s Letters To Felice. He wrote to this woman he was in love with hundreds of times, yet never met her. None of her replies are in the book, so you have to piece together their relationship. I was reading that one day, and Wonderwall came on the radio. I nicked the chords, then changed the rhythm and the melody. I’m pleased we managed to draw on Kafka and Oasis in the same song.”

The Embodiment of a National Tragedy

Retroactive I, Robert Rauschenberg, 1963

 
 

Retroactive I is widely considered one of the finest of Robert Rauschenberg’s silkscreen paintings. Central to the work is an iconic portrait of President John F. Kennedy, a symbol of progress and promise. Ironically, Rauschenberg ordered the silkscreen of this image during the summer preceding the president’s assassination. He overcame his initial reluctance to use it following the trauma of November 1963, in part because he was committed theoretically to a non-hierarchical interest in all phenomena in the world around him. Nothing, however, can separate the power of this image from its emblematic reading as the embodiment of a national tragedy.

 
 

Skyway, Robert Rauschenberg, 1964

 
 

Signs, Robert Rauschenberg, 1970